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Chocolate’s Really Good for You!

Did you know that dark chocolate can improve your vascular function?  Better said, did you know that dark chocolate is actually really good for you?  Well, it is!

Dark chocolate is part of a category of flavonoids called flavonols. Within that group are a number of compounds that have catechin. Those two compounds, catechin and epicatechin, are naturally occurring chemicals that can increase the levels of nitric oxide in your bloodstream.

Raising the nitric oxide level makes your arteries dilate and relax, promoting better blood flow.  As we age, our arteries can narrow and become constricted.  If they become inflexible and narrow too much we develop athersclerois. When this occurs, our blood pressure goes up, which can lead to cardiac disease or stroke.

In 2004,  Mary Engler, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of California San Francisco (and who should probably be nominated for sainthood), set up a clinical trial to investigate the effects of the antioxidants found in dark chocolate.

All trial subjects underwent high-tech evaluation of how well their blood vessels dilated and relaxed — an indictor of healthy blood vessel function.  Some test subjects received dark chocolate that contained full flavonoid chocolate.  The others received dark chocolate with the flavonoids removed. Those who got the full-flavonoid chocolate responded significantly better. Why? Blood tests showed that high levels of epicatechin were coursing through their arteries.

“This is the longest clinical trial to date to show improvement in blood vessel function from consuming flavonoid-rich dark chocolate daily over an extended period of time,” Engler concluded. “It is likely that the elevated blood levels of epicatechin triggered the release of active substances that … increase blood flow in the artery. Better blood flow is good for your heart.” *

How good does it get that chocolate could actually keep your arteries healthy?

However, not just any chocolate is good for your heart.  It needs to be dark chocolate, and the darker the better.  Why?  Because the high content of the cocoa contains flavnol.  While flavnol is found in red wine (resveretrol), cherries and tea, dark chocolate ranks the highest.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of a fruit grown on a tree in the tropical regions of the world.  When the fruits are harvested, the seeds are removed, then go through a rigorous fermentation process before being dried.  They have minimal flavor before processing.  Cocoa beans are then shelled, ground and put through a conching process to create a smooth-textured, velvety-flavored elixir that is made into bars, truffles, and more.  So it’s true that when you eat chocolate, you are eating the seeds of a fruit!  Gets better all the time, doesn’t it?

But wait – there’s more!  Chocolate also contains magnesium, potassium, copper and calcium.  And it raises serotonin levels in the brain, which is why chocolate is a feel-good food.  It’s also why you may crave chocolate when you’re stressed or sitting at the computer working long hours. (I speak for myself here; chocolate is my “drug of choice.”)

There’s only one small downside to all this fabulousness:  Calories!  Engler suggests eating 1.6 ounces of dark chocolate a day, hardly enough to whet a true chocoholic’s palate.  Personally, I think it’s well worth walking three miles or whatever else it takes to indulge properly and have a serious chunkachocolate daily.  I don’t know about you, but I want to make certain that not only does my blood flow smoothly through my arteries and my serotonin level is soaring, but that my taste buds are blossoming.  One of my favorite indulgences is a big piece dark chocolate with a nice cup of green tea or glass of red wine.   How about you?

*Engler’s study was funded by the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing. The American Cocoa Research Institute, a nonprofit group funded by the chocolate industry, provided the chocolate used in the study

Patricia Rain
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